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With its endless natural landscapes, bustling cities and amalgamation of cultures, Malaysia is an easy choice for a vacation in Southeast Asia. Yet compared to its neighbors, the country has remained fairly understated as a destination — at least to the Western market.
To make the country one of Asia’s most coveted destinations, Tourism Malaysia recently launched its Visit Malaysia 2020 initiative. We chatted with Azilina Azni Zainal Abidin, vice president at Tourism Malaysia, to discuss the destination, its tourism hurdles and the organization’s plans to create a multibillion-dollar tourism scene in the country.
How has Malaysia fared as a travel destination for the U.S. market in the last few years?The last three years have been very challenging for Malaysia to maintain our presence in the U.S. market, as not much publicity has been done to create awareness. U.S. tourist arrivals to Malaysia in 2017 had slightly decreased compared to 2016. Malaysia, being part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also faced competition from other destinations for the U.S. market, which affected our tourist arrival numbers.
Who is your biggest demographic, and what attracts these clients to Malaysia?Our biggest demographics for the U.S. market are millennials and Generation Xers. Most are independent travelers and repeat visitors to Malaysia.
Our destination has many attractions that offer an unforgettable experience. We are blessed to have a tropical rainforest, pristine beaches and breathtaking islands, along with a rich, well-preserved tapestry of cultures and history, as well as a delightful array of local cuisines at affordable prices that attract international tourists. And speaking of prices, the exchange rates for U.S. dollars are so good that clients can stretch their money when vacationing at many places in Malaysia.
How tourist-friendly is Malaysia? Are there any issues/barriers that discourage U.S. travelers from visiting? Malaysians are known for their friendliness — especially toward international visitors. They will help visitors feel at home and offer assistance whenever they need it while exploring the country.
There are no issues that should discourage U.S. travelers from visiting Malaysia. U.S. travelers to Malaysia are very surprised that our country is safe and modern while maintaining its traditional values and heritage, which makes it a unique holiday destination.
What are some top experiences for first-time visitors to Malaysia?For first-time visitors, we recommend visiting Kuala Lumpur, a metropolitan city with old-fashioned charms. Tourist should not miss a visit to our iconic Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur to view the city skyline from the 86th floor.
The Malaysian states of Malacca and Penang are also popular destinations and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo offer unique places to see wildlife, ethnic cultures and nature, including Mount Kinabalu and the caves in Gunung Mulu National Park.
What are your goals for 2018? We saw a positive increase in U.S. tourist arrivals to Malaysia for the first two months of 2018, and this encourages us to work harder in continuing our promotional efforts to increase tourist numbers from the U.S. market. We intend to create more awareness among consumers and travel agents about the beauty of our rainforest and islands, along with the uniqueness of cultures and cuisines.
Is there any specific market you’re currently trying to tap into?Since we are a long-haul market, we are looking at leisure travelers who enjoy eco-adventures and seek cultural experiences. We are also looking at the multigenerational segment, as Malaysia has a lot to offer to this group of travelers.
Collaboration with travel trade partners who specialize in family travel will be among our efforts to capture this market segment. We are also currently working closely with airlines on a fam trip program this year.
Which major hotel and attractions should we should keep an eye out for this year?Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur is opening in June. It’s going to be the brand’s first Malaysian property. Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur is also set to open this month. It will be in the same area as Banyan Tree.
For travelers who fly low-cost carriers such as AirAsia, airport transit hotel Aerotel Kuala Lumpur just opened in March, and it provides comfort and ease of travel for tourists exploring the region.
And for family travelers, Legoland Malaysia Resort, the first Legoland in Asia, will welcome its brand-new attraction, Sea Life Malaysia, which is scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of 2018.The DetailsTourism Malaysiawww.tourism.gov.my